D.C. Mayor Marion Barry has joined City Council Chairman Arrington L. Dixon in voicing opposition to a proposal before the City Council bill that would legalize sex between consenting children of about the same age.
Barry said that the would begin working with the council's Judiciary committee to modify the bill, which in criminal present form would remove all criminal penalties for sexual relations between consenting children 12 and than four years older than the other. It would also allow consentual sex between children younger than 12 if one is not more than two years older than the other.
The proposed legislation is part of a comprehensive revision of all of the city's sex laws that would generally broaden the penalties for forced sexual activity while diminishing those for sex between consenting parties. It would effectively nullify the current 16-year age of consent.
"I just think that's outrageous," Barry told Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam Thursday night. "I can't support it as mayor or as a citizen."
"I can't think of any rationale . . . any compelling reason to have decriminalization," the mayor said.
Barry's stated opposition to the measure came as it principal author, Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), called a press conference to clear up what he termed inaccurate reporting about the bill in Thursday and Friday's editions of The Washington Post.
Clark said the measure would not leagalize concentual sex among children, but only remove the criminal penalties for it. He said four persons quoted in the articles, some of whom expressed surprise about or opposition to the measure, had "disowned part or all of the quotes attributed to them."
"More importantly," Clarke said, "the story was sensationalist and alarmist in representing to the public that the issue being considered by the Council was that of sexual liberty rather than where criminal or juvenile penalties for statutory rape ought to be applied."
The full package of sex law changes is to be voted on the by the Council Tuesday. "In the time that remains," Clarke said, "I urge, I plead, for some responsible reporting on the real issues we have to decide."
Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor for metropolitan news for The Washington Post, said yesterday that he had examined all of Clarke's allegations and found the articles to be "fair, accurate and responsible."
Clarke, surrounded by several persons who supported the bill, said that he wanted to focus public attention on what he said were "the real issues" -- the fact that the bill broadens the definitions of sexual assault and rape, and extends legal protections to males as well as females.
"The bill does not legalize sexual activity among teenagers," Clarke said. He added, "To treat this bill like bills that allow drinking in public places is absurd."
So far, six of the 13 council members have gone on record supporting the legislative package -- including the provisions on consentual sex -- either in their statements in the last two days or by voting for the bill when it was unanimously voted out June 3 by the Judiciary Committee, of which Clarke is chairman. Those six are H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), John L. Ray (D-At Large) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) and Clarke.
Dixon and Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) have said they are opposed to the consentual sex provision. The other five Council members have not taken a firm stance.
Under the current statute, any person having sex with a girl under 16 years old is violating the statutory rape law, which carries with it a penalty of up to life imprisonment. That section would apply even if the offending male were also under 16 -- for example, in the case of two 14-year-olds who agree to have sex.
"To rectify that absurdity, we had to develop a standard for [which] sexual activity should be made subject to the stigma and penalty associated with the violation of a rape law," Clarke said.
The committee's law, based roughly on the recommendation of the city's Law Revision Commission, allows sexual intercourse between children 12 and older as long as there is no force or enticement and as long as the two partners are less than four years apart in age.
Children under 12 could also engage in sex as long as there was no force, coercion or enticement, and as long as the children were no more than two years apart in age.
According to the committee report, which summarizes the bill and accompanies it, this section "aims to protect the very young child from sexual abuse, while allowing for some sexual experimentation between persons very close in age."
Under the bill, forced sex would still be outlawed at any age. Also, children 13 years old or older are prohibited from engaging in sex, even concentual, with persons less than 12 years old. The penalty is a jail term up to 20 years in prison.
The full council is scheduled to take the first of two necessary votes on the measure at its meeting in the District building on Tuesday morning. The second vote would occur at the July 14 Council meeting.
Barry did not say if he would veto the measure. To do that, he would have to reject the entire package, not just the provision on concentual sex.